The church is the pillar and the ground of truth 1 Timothy 3:15 Paul enjoins believers to conduct themselves appropriately in the household of God which is the church of the living God. This church does not belong to anyone or group but is the bride of Christ as seen in Revelations 19 and 21. This is because scripture enjoins us that Christ paid the price so has become the head of the church or is also her groom and she is His bride. Gods the author and executor of the redemptive plan is owns the Church so that all leaders in the Church are under shepherd to the chief shepherd Jesus Christ. This means all under shepherds should be submissive to Him obedient and give their lives for the sheep and not lord it over the sheep. This body all fitly joined together Ephesians 4:16 implies that if we all as members of the body do our part then we will be able to make the impact that is required as one force of the body of Christ in the earth.
The king is coming and the Church has two major tasks: to prepare the bride/church for her bridegroom and to help prepare the world for His coming kingdom, therefore away with the indiscipline, away with the corruption away with the divisions and schismatic groups that have held the church bound and impotent.
We live in a world of uncertainties such as insecurity, increasing fear and tension due to terror attacks. In Northern Nigeria no one feels safe in the church, the market, social gatherings and motor parks, in the east it is the fear of being kidnapped (Dadang 2018). Beyond these however are other limiting factors of the church (indiscipline, corruption, division and schismatic groups). They are limiting factors because they serve to disable the power of the cross of Christ for transformation from coming to light and liberating people who come into contact with it from bondage.
A brief casting of Christianity is their unique profession of the divine being. The profession of faith in a transcendent yet personal God who has revealed Himself and His purpose to human kind within human history, is showed by Jews, Muslim and Christians alike. The difference however which is absolute and non-negotiable for all Christians throughout the world rests on the belief that the true God is a perfect and eternal union of three persons – father, son and Holy Spirit known as the Holy Trinity (Christianity Illustrated guide).
Background of Christianity in Africa: The churches of the Middle East and North Africa were responsible for the first expansion of Christianity but a series of invasions – Arab, Mongol, Crusader and Ottoman greatly influenced their members. With the exception of Ethiopia, sub-Saharan Christianity began with mission churches (protestant and catholic) established by the Americans and western Europeans between the late fifteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Christianity in Nigeria (effects): Engagement of Nigerian people by European missionaries signified the beginning of Nigerian Christianity. The presentation of the message, the reaction to traditional religion, the introduction of western civilization, the over throw of native authorities as the supreme government all served in a dynamic interplay of forces to establish Christianity as a force to be reckoned with both in the religious and circular arenas.
Christianity collided with diverse cultural practices entreated in native communities – it attacked slavery, fought the killing of twins, cursed polygamy and demonized most forms of cultural heritage: Christianity established educational institutions which created a new elite: it committed the languages of many tribes to writing and introduced modern agricultural practices and techniques. New laws were established for communities, ranging from settlement of disputes to the conduct of kings. The most potent factors in the first decades of pioneering was the Christian missionary. Missionaries embodied everything the new religion represented and whether Christianity was accepted or rejected, understood or misunderstood established or forgotten depended on them. They are carriers of the eternal seed to be planted in temporal soil (Abodunde 2017).
From 1839 a movement was indicated among the Yoruba’s in Sierra Leone to return to their homeland. In November 1839 twenty – three leading Yoruba merchants in Freetown including one Nupe and one Hausa man signed a petition requesting the British governments support for the emigration of their countrymen to Badagary to start a colony which would be under British jurisdiction. They proposed not only to trade but to also introduce Christianity to their homeland.
The Church: The word church comes from the Creek word ekklesia which is defined as “an assembly” or “called out ones”. When Jesus met with his disciples near Caesarea-Philippi, he inquired concerning how others were identifying him. Several opinions were proffered. He then pressed for their view.
Peter responded, confessing Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of God.” The Lord pronounced a blessing upon his apostle and declared that upon this “rock” (the truth of that declaration) he would build his church.
The Greek term for “church” is ekklesia (found 114 times in the New Testament). In the New Testament context, the word is employed in four senses:
- It represents the body of Christ worldwide, over which the Lord functions as head (Mt. 16:18; Eph. 1:22; 1 Tim. 3:15).
- The expression can refer to God’s people in a given region (Acts 9:31, ASV, ESV).
- Frequently, it depicted a local congregation of Christians (1 Cor. 1:2; Rev. 1:11).
- It could also signify a group of the Lord’s people assembled for worship (1 Cor. 14:34-35).
Power of the Church: As a representation of Jesus here on earth, Christ is the head and we are the body (Colossians 1:18). This brings alive the power of the cross as the gospel is preached.
Jesus referred to the Church as the light of the world (Matthew 5:14) all through history even though scientists try to disagree and historians attempt to remove the power of the gospel, discoveries, developments in science, health care and the industrial movement can be traced to revivals that took place in the church of Europe and America. This is the power of the church that is not limited.
Limitations of the Church (past and present): with the spread of the gospel, the Church has become the melting pot of different cultures, views and expectation. Very early in the first century church as the believers multiplied rapidly, there was a problem of grumbling in the church with respect to the widows of certain cultures being neglected during the distribution of food (Acts 6:1-16). This led to the first recorded selection of deacons and subsequently the first martyr.
Then we have Paul’s writing to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 3:4-5) here the division was related to people who had preached the gospel to them and Paul described them as carnal stating that none of them had died for the sins of the people. Being carnal meant they were following their flesh or their senses.
Over the years, as the missionaries from various groups brought the gospel, differences were strengthened in the denominations. Within the denominations however, as cities became a melting pot of various cultures, churches were established along ethnic lines with some of those ethnicities being foreign to the prevalent culture. This in many ways has led to discriminations, partiality in selection of church leaders in some cases, grumbling and in certain cases out right conflicts between ethnicities. Some churches have taken the worst hit by being split with believers having to go separate ways based on irreconcilable differences. At some point too as a result of the political issues and ethnic rivalry some of which is tied to stigmatization, the line of division is further widened.
The Message of the Church: in the first advent, the message carried by angels to the shepherds was “I bring you glad tidings of great joy today is born in the city of David a savior” Luke 2:8-14. We must remember that after the fall of Adam in judging sin, God Himself had proclaimed the good news of the gospel in Genesis 3:15 that there would be conflict between the seed of the woman and the serpent with the seed of the woman bruising his head and the serpent bruising His heel.
Jesus Himself came declaring His mission Luke 4:18-19 taken Isaiah 61:1 to preach the gospel to the poor, heal the broken hearted and set at liberty those who are bound to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. All through His three and a half years of ministry we see that this was all he did.
The early disciples in Acts preached this same Jesus whom you crucified, Paul preached the gospel, the power of God unto salvation. Then we have the founding fathers such as Ignatius on Antioch who stressed the deity and humanity of Jesus Christ and the unity of all believers. Then we have Clement who dealt with dissentions in the Corinthian Church where elders legally appointed by the apostles had been deposed, stressing that the gospel should heal and unite.
Following the early fathers were various leaders such as Justin Martyr known as apologist’s where preaching was mainly to challenge the main philosophical thought of that time.
Preaching of Specifics: In Nigeria the decades have produced the preaching of specifics that have in many ways widened the gap between church members generally. The preaching of healing and the healing crusades, prosperity, unconditional love, grace etc have produced ardent following and in many cases a lack of depth in the hearts of the followers leading up to vain arguments.
Movement Related Messages: this refers to sermons borne out world movements, had some truths but when taken out of context led to error.
- Unconditional Love: a lot of discussion about unconditional love stems from the work of Carl Rogers a Psychologist with Christian background whose parents wanted to become a preacher.
Message: The main thrust is unconditional positive regard for all persons irrespective of race or creed. This gave rise to the thought that homosexuals should be welcomed and accepted so that Christians who spoke up against this sin were termed intolerant. Indeed we are commanded to love and are told that God so loved the world, the balance however is that we are also commanded to warn the sinner that there is a heaven to gain and a hell to shun. We are to be the voice of reason in an unreasonable world
Result: this has bred a lot indiscipline accepting faulty character for who they are and neglecting the bible that says if any one of you has a faulty character don’t eat with them have nothing to do with them 1 Corinthians 5:9-11.
- Prosperity: the result of a large scale of poverty in Nigeria has led to the need for hope in a people where government does not think critically of a way to help. The need to own houses, cars etc not readily available has allowed this message to grow.
Message: mainly the thrust is the ownership of all things by God our father and that He is willing to transfer the riches of the gentiles/unbelievers to us. However the balance is that Ephesians 1:3 tells us that we are already blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, Galatians 3:14 Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles, God wishes above all things that we prosper and be in health. We don’t become millionaires to flaunt riches around not caring about the poor around us.
Result: this has bred selfishness, corruption as wealth at some point was a symbol of large faith used to receive from God.
- Superiority: the search for dominance and superiority politically has led to the marginalization of certain groups in the community, the benefiting of a select few and a dissatisfaction for life by those marginalized.
Message: the return to Jewish roots by some preachers has strengthened the beliefs that indeed some cultures are more superior to others. The motivational speakers with the message of you can do it have also had their fill in the church creating individuals who are immature who lack the character of faithfulness but run about feeling superior to all others. Unfortunately a lot of our preachers have also fallen for this cheap trick and those who are sound many times are not speaking up.
Result: this had bred cultural re-identification and not identity with Christ. In cosmopolitan areas, people from other ethnic groups have had to travel to other areas to live and work in the process establish churches where there was only one cultural group, they have established services in the local dialect to the exclusion of other cultures. Attempts to integrate have been met with stiff opposition and outcry, resistance and non-cooperation with leadership sometimes. Such churches have become more of a social group attending to only the physical needs of the people and not spiritual, others are a mere pressure group to demand for the rights of their members and no longer the body of Christ.
Discussion, Limiting Factors: the church, the body of Christ is a living active organism, the power of God on the earth today, the force of heaven available to destroy the work of the devil, the light in the darkness, the proposed bride of Christ.
Manifestations of Indiscipline: there are several manifestations of indiscipline in our church today which are
- Insubordination: breech of protocol, disobedience, unfairness, oppression because of seniority
- Breach of confidentiality: using the information given privately in public or to preach sermons without anonymizing the identity of characters involved.
- Manipulation, Domination and Control: using spiritual gifts, title, age, affiliation to the bishop to get people to do things they normally would not do through guilt trips.
- Loquaciousness: talking out of turn and being loud
- Tongue control: unseasoned speech, abusive language
- Lack of courtesy: Where during worship you cut people short speak to people without respect
- Ingratitude: not seeing church members as co-laborers forgetting that without the church members the ministry is hindered and that these people are volunteering.
- Indiscriminate use of church property: the use of church property e.g vehicles without proper permission, use of such for personal other than official uses or use of such property by members of your family to the point of damage thereby incurring unnecessary cost for the church.
- Eye Service: the desire for preferment makes some people pretend and work while the authority is looking doing nothing when no one is looking.
Manifestation of corruption: the following are the manifestations of corruption
- Extortion: using the name of the bishop or other authority to obtain money from church members
- Diversion of funds: using money that is meant for a project to other unapproved/personal projects without going through the authorized channels.
- Pseudo problems: creating pseudo or phantom problems to make church members emotional so as to raise funds for personal use
- Pilfering: Tampering with offerings of tithes before it gets to accounts
- Inflating expenses: raising the cost of things to obtain money for other personal things
- Unlawful request of items: asking members to bring money, items or food items during dedication and thanksgiving with the promise of a blessing/reward
- Unjust seizure of stipends: unjustly refusing to pay the stipend of a junior without provocation
- Inflation of remuneration: going beyond agreed remuneration in the respective churches and in some cases creating allowances not approved to ensure increased payments.
- Financial lobbying: begging church members for phone credits, money to buy personal items (car, house, Tv, clothes, pay children’s fees etc)
- Unruly behavior: as priests it is unbecoming behavior to quarrel over food trying to get extra rations during the sharing of items
Manifestation of Division/Schisms: the following are the manifestations of schisms
- Tribalism/ethnic balancing: favoring your tribe over other members of the congregation who belong to a different tribe
- Divisiveness: among priests serving in a church one person knocking the heads of others together
- Tale bearing: undue or unfair true stories/confidential information that are then used to cause division. Remember that we should keep secrets
- Nepotism: favoring family members nuclear or extended in appointments to positions in the church.
- Schism: divisions in opinion among pastors, taking sides not necessarily because of the truth but because of tribe of perceived benefits.
Implication of the Above: As leaders in the church, all of the above are indicators of a sick church in need of urgent help. On the outside however is an “impotent looking” bride/church, this should not be, she cannot in Nigeria for example make an impact in politics, insecurity, the economy, health, education etc. we now have a hedonistic gathering of people who only seek pleasure and not sweat and pain in producing a harvest for the kingdom.
Solution: we must as a matter of importance return to the bible, the preaching of the cross, the message that only Jesus can save, He died and rose that we might have life and victory over the world the flesh and the devil that He paid in FULL the price for sin.
We should return to the preaching that God has no favorites, is no respecter of persons and Jesus has commanded us to love one another as Christ has loved us.
We must return to our study groups, discipleship classes making believers like Christ, teaching like Paul that we are to put on the new man having become new creatures in Christ, that we must turn away from the deeds of darkness that we must walk in the Spirit so as not to gratify the desires of the flesh. We must return to the prayers as of old, where our all night meetings are to like Paul expound the scriptures and the make me more like Jesus in thought word and deed prayers.
Our activities must be centered on Jesus and Him crucified.
- Joyner R. 2008. Taking the Land part one. Morning Star. Fort mill
- Dadang M.E. 2018. Christianity: footprints of the founding fathers. Challenge press, Jos
- Abodunde A. 2017. A Heritage of Faith: A History of Christianity in Nigeria. Pierce Watershed, Lagos
- Bahr A.G (Eds). 2011. Christianity: The illustrated guide to 2000 years of the Christian faith. Millennium house, Australia.